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Carlstrom, Combs jump into race for Santa Rosa council

Erin Carlstrom


Two relative newcomers to Santa Rosa’s political scene have announced plans to run for city council next November.

Attorney Erin Carlstrom, 28, and neighborhood activist Julie Combs, 55, have filed campaign finance paperwork but are officially kicking off their campaigns with local fund-raisers early next month.

Four of the seven council seats are on the ballot in November 2012. How many incumbents will run again is unclear. John Sawyer is a candidate for county supervisor. Gary Wysocky and Mayor Ernesto Olivares will presumably run again but Marsha Vas Dupre said Friday said she’s finished with city politics.

Julie Combs

“Oh God, no!” said Vas Dupre, 70, when asked if she would seek reelection.

While relatively new to the area, Combs and Carlstrom have been gaining experience on city boards and commissions in recent years.

Combs and her husband, Allan, moved to Santa Rosa from Ohio in 2007 after he accepted a teaching job in San Francisco. She quickly became involved with plans to turn the 50-acre stretch of Highway 12 right-of-way into a proposed Southeast Greenway.

She was appointed by Gary Wysocky to the city’s Community Advisory Board in 2009.

A founder of the Bennett Valley neighborhood group called 95405.org, Combs says she’s entering the race because she didn’t see anyone stepping forward and thinks the city needs to be more responsive to issues important to neighborhoods.

“I’m concerned that we have a council majority that is not listening to all the city,” Combs said.

Combs has a diverse work experience that includes engineering, working with people with disabilities, historic preservation and neighborhood activism. She has two daughters in their 20s.

Carlstrom, a San Bernardino County native, came to Santa Rosa in 2008 after graduating from law school to open her law practice. Her firm, Le+Pelletier LLP, specializes in business law, she said.

She was appointed by former councilwoman Veronica Jacobi to replace Nick Caston on the Planning Commission in 2010. She and Caston, a campaign consultant and Democratic operative, married in August and live downtown.

When Jacobi lost her reelection bid, Carlstrom was not reappointed to the Planning Commission. Wysocky later appointed her to the Measure O Oversight Committee that monitors spending from the voter-approved sales tax fund earmarked for public safety and related programs.

She quickly jumped into the fray over public safety salaries and benefits, writing an op-ed piece in the Press Democrat that sharply criticized the council majority’s budget priorities. She said the decision to shield public safety from spending cuts would “gut the quality of life in Santa Rosa.”

Carlstrom said she stands by that assessment and believes the city must do a better job of balancing public safety with other needs.

“We all need to be sharing the burden,” she said. “Public safety services are important, but community services are very important as well.”

Both candidates are drawing support from those allied with environmental, neighborhood and labor groups, but Carlstrom said she doesn’t like labels, or the pattern of polarization and “pot shots” she said the council has fallen into.

“I actually believe that we can have a more nuanced approach. It doesn’t have to be progressive versus business,” she said.

While the timing of their campaigns is similar, Carlstrom said she and Combs are not coordinating their efforts.

Both candidates are holding initial fund-raisers on Nov. 6. Carlstrom’s event will be held at the home of state Sen. Noreen Evans while Combs’ follows at Councilwoman Susan Gorin’s home.

13 Responses to “Carlstrom, Combs jump into race for Santa Rosa council”

  1. @Marsha says:

    There’s a fine line between “endorsement” and “political liability.”

    Your endorsements have helped me decide not to vote for those 3, thanks.

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  2. @Michael Aparicio says:


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  3. Marsha Vas Dupre, Ph.D. says:

    Oh, my!!! Sen. Noreen Evans is NOT a job killer – you really need to study the facts. Re Erin Carlstrom’s husband Nick Caston, again – do your research and you will learn about his serving as the elected Student Trustee on the SRJC Bd. of Trustees and his many fine political accomplishments there and since then.
    Re the three new candidates I’ve endorsed for the Santa Rosa City Council race 11/12, pl. join me in supporting my Planning Commissioner Appointee Caroline Banuelos, Erin Carlstrom and Julie Combs – AND, do the research as to why they would work for transparency and open gov’t.

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  4. Caroline Banuelos says:

    Dear Press Democrat, You know me; I’m Caroline Banuelos: Santa Rosa Planning Commissioner, homeless service provider, President of the Latino Democratic Club, etc. To correct an omission and set the record straight there is another candidate in this race. That would be me. I’m actively running for Santa Rosa City Council, have filed my intent to run, have opened a bank account, am gathering a talented campaign team and intend to move forward. I trust this is mere omission (meaning a mistake to be corrected) rather than an attempt to lower my public profile.

    This may prove to be a difficult election as both the people and those who represent them face some challenging choices. Thus, I expect some hard political blows which is a natural part of any campaign. I exist, I intend to run and run well. To quote the English musician, Richard Thompson, “It is time to ring some changes.” My purpose is to improve our city and to make things better for all concerned. This goal becomes somewhat tricky if a candidate is invisible; at least as far as your publication is concerned, Therefore; it does become necessary to repeat a fact….I exist! I respectfully request that you mention my candidacy in the Press Democrat.

    Caroline Banuelos,
    Candidate for Santa Rosa City Council 2012

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  5. During the two years a progressive coalition held the majority on the Santa Rosa City Council (2009-2010) the City saw improved government transparency and access, a trend that has been reversing itself since the pro-developer faction re-gained the Council majority. However, the Great Recession’s fallout made it difficult for the 2009-2010 progressive majority to establish a progressive agenda balancing neighborhood interests, environmental interests, and local business interests. It left the progressives vulnerable to allegations that they weren’t doing enough, and the pro-developer faction re-gained the council majority on vague promises of more jobs. Now that voters are being reminded what the pro-developer majority is like, with their aversion to government transparency and access, as well as their questionable deals with their own campaign contributors (e.g., Chamber of Commerce and SR Police Association), Santa Rosa voters just may elect a new progressive majority, raising an important question: will a new progressive majority be able to demonstrate to voters the qualitative difference a progressive City Council can make? I hope voters ask Combs, Carlstrom, and every candidate such questions when they knock on your door.

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  6. Ken says:


    Job killers? “We need…”? “Time for the adults to take charge?”

    The Chamber of Commerce puppet majority have been in place forever, but this latest round is 4 years.

    Where are the jobs? Oh, I know, the job killers got rid of Lowe’s and Wal-Mart.

    BUT, we did just promise $300k to the Chamber to make a bunch of jobs. On TOP of their subsidized rent. Sucking at the public teat, indeed. Say thank you to Olivares, Bartley and Oars.

    And you can say thank you to them as well, for less lighting and for the Howarth Park parking fee that will soon be coming your way.

    Oh, and a big thank you to them for making back room deals BEFORE the election with the thin blue line. Got to give the boys with toys LARGE salaries and pensions. Just like Olivares got when he retired after SPIKING his pension.

    Yes, the Chamber does such a great job in running our City. Just like they’ve done for years.

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  7. Non Violent says:


    You said we don’t need another jobs-killing politician in Santa Rosa.

    You are right. If we can cut 50% of local government, we won’t need to worry about the corrupt government.

    Let them pave their roads and pick up trash. Thats all we need from the criminals who call themselves our “leaders.”

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  8. Non Violent says:


    I had to laugh at your description of the Sonoma County old boy network. You are spot on.

    Sonoma County corruption has been in place for multiple generations and the network and family ties have kept it that way.

    Young newcomers without family connections to the local corruption will only help.

    The Press Democrat is somewhat complicit in helping the old boy network keep their advantage.

    In the meantime, look at the following link for an eye opener of your tax dollars at work.


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  9. Steve Peavy says:

    Two more collectives running for the Santa Rosa City Council. Just what the city doesn’t need.

    Polticians like these two have driven this city to the brink of bankruptcy with bike paths, crazy sculptures, job and business killing regulations and city fees and taxes.

    We don’t need these progressives, we need candidates with common sense and a business background running for office. Enough of the social welfare, green elites.

    This country and this city is in trouble and its time for the adults to take charge.

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  10. POLL says:

    Give this comment a thumbs up if you will be voting for or supporting Julie Combs and a thumbs down if you are against her election to city council.

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  11. POLL says:

    Give this comment a thumbs up if you will be voting for or supporting Erin Carlstrom and a thumbs down if you are against her election to city council.

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  12. Brian Brazoot says:

    How can we expect two women — young women, newcomers, with no apparent ties to old timey Santa Rosa politics — to be able to govern with the same effective backroom deal tactics that their predecessors have used to bring this town to its rose colored knees?

    Seriously. Grow some gray hair, mustaches, beer bellies, and start hanging out with some guys in ill fitting suits whose families have been here for four generations. Then we’ll see if we can trust you with things like payback deals, developer relations, parking lot construction, pension sweetening, budgets, and the other important stuff.

    Yay old boy public servants with special interests!
    Boo new ideas from young progressive thinkers!

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  13. pete says:

    Carlstrom is married to an insider who worked for Noreen Evans! We dont need another jobs-killing politican in Santa Rosa.

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